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As dawn broke, Arthur went out to the woods. At his insistence, his father didn’t follow. Arthur didn’t want to risk anyone seeing him with a stranger.

He was determined to someday learn the full truth of how Calvan had come to be sentenced here. However, tonight wasn’t the right time for that story. Not with his father’s loyalty to the duchy. One thing was for certain: Arthur was far from done with his old home.

Pausing, Arthur turned back to look at his cabin one last time. It was smaller than he remembered before. As small as a prison cell.

One day, Arthur would find a way to break his father out of it.

 


 

His father had described a common meeting place for outsiders who wanted to conduct clandestine business with the village. Arthur hadn’t known about it as a child, of course. But his father had drawn a simple map that led him to a clearing surrounded by large boulders. Easy to see from the sky.

On arriving, Arthur looked up to see a descending purple dragon. They had been ready for him.

He also recognized the dragon and rider.

“Tess flew fast!” the purple chirped.

Her rider, Johanna, grinned at Arthur. “I’m here to pick up a package? Hey, wait.” She squinted at him. “Do I know you?”

He smiled. “You and Tess once saved my life during a scourge eruption.”

“The tree!” Tess broke in, hopping from foot to foot. “Tess catch boy in the tree!”

“That’s right,” he said, surprised she had remembered. “You were a good girl.”

“Tess is a very, very, very good girl!” she agreed.

“Huh,” Johanna said, “I would say you’ve done well for yourself, but considering you’re here…”

“I’m not one of the residents,” Arthur said, “And there’s no oath that keeps me here.”

Her face squinted up. “Let me guess. You’re the package we’re to pick up?”

“You had to be wondering why you were paid so well.” Despite Arthur’s self-assurance, he was holding his breath. If Johanna denied him, he had no way to get back to the hive within any reasonable length of time. His absence would be noted by the nobles soon.

And he still didn’t know if Horatio and Sams had made a clean getaway.

Johanna let him dangle a moment longer. “These high-paying jobs are always a pain,” she said and then extended a hand down to help him up. “I hope you know how to ride.”

 


 

They flew through the rest of the day, and well into the afternoon passing into evening. Sitting behind Johanna, the wind screamed past Arthur’s ears and dried out his eyes to the point where he only occasionally looked down. Tess’s wings were a blur, and her stamina seemed boundless. Arthur would have paid good shards to know what cards she was hopped up on.

There was no chance for conversation. Johanna didn’t once suggest they stop to rest, either. It was an endless marathon.

But Arthur did add five additional levels to his dragon riding skill.

He wished he could discover what this sort of endurance run would do to his Body Enhancement card, but he didn’t dare add it to his heart deck until he knew it was safe.

The presence of the card itched at him from where it was tucked away in his storage. It was as if his Master of Skills and Master of Body Enhancement cards longed to be reunited.

Finally, after what felt like an endless time, Johanna called, “Look sharp. We’re close!”

Arthur cracked open eyes that had gone crusty with wind tears. Sure enough, the hive’s cone was visible in the distance.

He was nearly home.

Tess slowed from her break-neck dash into a relatively quick pace that matched other purple dragons in the sky. The other dragons on courier duty were endlessly ferrying people and goods to and from the hive, so they didn’t stand out.

“Where do I drop ya?” Johanna asked.

Arthur directed her to his apartment block. Tess touched down neatly on the street in front of the door. She drew a few looks, but his neighbors knew Arthur was a recruit for a Rare.

Helping him down, Johanna’s hand lingered on Arthur’s wrist, squeezing it.

“I had a feeling you were slated for interesting things, the day we rescued you. Don’t be a stranger.”

Before Arthur could figure how out to reply — or do more than find the nearest strong wall to lean against. His legs were killing him — Tess jumped into the sky.

The door to the apartment house opened.

“Those bowlegs of yours can’t be healthy. Should I send for a card healer?” Horatio’s voice asked.

Arthur turned (every muscle protesting). “You made it back.”

Horatio raised an eyebrow. “Back from what?” he said pointedly.

Arthur shook his head, relief sweeping through him and threatening to unsteady his already wobbly legs. Horatio rolled his eyes and came over to offer a strong shoulder.

Somehow, Horatio was able to drag Arthur's sorry butt the two flights of stairs to their shared apartment.

"How's Sams?” Arthur asked the moment the door was shut.

"He needs to leave tonight," Horatio said, as he helped lead Arthur to his cot.

Arthur fell on it with a groan.

Now that he was no longer sitting with legs locked around the ribs of a small dragon, every muscle in his thighs, ass, and stomach were cramping.

"I meant…" he started to say.

"We’re fine," Horatio said. "The guards fired some arrows, and threw an enchanted spear, but Sams isn't a spring chicken. He got us away without a scratch. We were worried about you." Horatio peered down at him. "Are you okay? Did it work?"

Arthur chuckled and reached for his storage space. He pulled out the single Rare card that he had reserved for his friend. "You tell me."

Horatio stared. Then with trembling fingers, he reached and took it.

 

Ultraviolet Light Manipulation

Rare

Elemental manipulation

 

The wielder of this card is granted the ability to see and manipulate ultraviolet light, which is not normally perceived by the human eye. When combined with mana, ultraviolet light may be strengthened to a form suitable for combat.

 

It was a short card description, but elemental manipulation cards were usually strong enough to speak for themselves.

"This is… are you sure?" Horatio sounded unexpectedly vulnerable.

Arthur struggled to sit up, pressing his back against the wall. "This is the whole reason you helped me out, right?”

"No, damn it! I helped you out because you're my friend."

Horatio must have been truly stunned to be so sentimental.

"Take the card and use it well," Arthur said.

With a suspiciously watery nod, Horatio pulled down the front of his shirt and slipped the card into his heart.

His eyes flashed a whitish purple before returning to normalcy. He blinked and then blinked again, looking around. The expression of amazement faded, and his top lip curled in disgust.

"What's wrong?" Arthur asked.

"I don't think the landlords cleaned this apartment as well as they said they did before we moved in."

Arthur raised an eyebrow, but Horatio shook his head and refused to elaborate.

His friend went serious again. "I have to leave. Sams is supposed to return to his hive, and I need to get moving now if I want to let Kenzie know."

His friend was going to be living in the Buck Moon hive. His former home.

Arthur knew that this was going to happen. In fact, it was for the best right now as it would put Horatio far out of reach of the Duke who was no doubt searching for his cards.

But it was still hard to say goodbye to his friend.

"We'll meet again," Arthur promised.

“We’d better. I want to show you a real hive one day.”

Arthur rolled his eyes, but grinned. He was happy for him.

Horatio wasn’t the hugging type. He was mostly silent and a little contemplative as he quickly packed his things. Like Arthur, he didn’t have much to pack. His wealth was in his cards.

Meanwhile, Arthur stretched out on his bed and tried to relax screaming muscles. The knowledge he could likely ease his suffering by adding his Master of Body Enhancement card was all the worse.

He would be a fool to put it in his heart right now.

Finally, Horatio was as packed as he was going to be. He stopped at the door. “Will you be okay?”

“I’d better be. Ernest Kane needs to show up at the Promenade tonight.”

“What, why?”

“So I can have my heart scanned by the hidden Seekers who are sure to be there,” Arthur said. “Which is more reason for you to go. Tell Sams I’m sorry I couldn’t see him off.”

Horatio hesitated for a moment and then dropped his bag at the door.

He was wrong. His friend could be a hugger… under the right circumstances.

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A note from HonourRae

Believe it or not, we're close to the end of book 1! Next chapter should be the last. Not that it matters for you since I'll immediately start posting book 2 right after. :)


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HonourRae

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